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Fire, Comics and Change

March 20, 2013

I’m a huge fan of stand up comedy. I watched a performance one time by a comedian as he juggled an axe and two machetes.

“This is the original axe that George Washington used to chop down the cherry tree.

I had to replace the handle. . .

. . .and the head.”

What makes us who we are? If he’d only replaced the handle, or only replaced the head, would the axe have been valuable as more than a stage prop?

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This is the “Provo Tabernacle“. It was built by Mormon pioneers in 1898. It is one of the city treasures of Provo, Utah.

Last year it was heavily damaged by fire. Rather than raze such an iconic structure, the Mormon church opted to renovate it and use it as a Mormon temple. The interior has been completely gutted. Not only that, the inside of the exterior walls have been reinforced with concrete and rebar.

They even dug down and replaced the entire foundation. All while leaving the exterior walls standing. It made me think about that comedian and his axe. If we maintain the outer shell, is it still the same building?

How many of us are like this building? Have you ever had to completely change who you were inside while keeping the outer walls? In business we often call this “reinventing ourselves.”

I have a friend named Howard Tayler. We met while working at WordPerfect Corporation. Howard went on to Novell and ran their Novell GroupWise development team. About seven years ago Howard left the IT world to pursue his passion of being a professional cartoonist, despite the fact that in his words he “didn’t know how to draw.”

Howard draws the award winning comic Schlock Mercenary.

We may not go through as major a change as the Provo Tabernacle, or give up our day job to draw a comic and give it away for free on the Internet. But we each can make internal changes that affect the essence of who we are in the workplace.

Several years ago I was at a company and was moving between teams in the same department. The change was not a smooth one and my annual performance evaluation that year was the worst of my career. I went to my mentor for advice.

“Yeah, that’s a pretty scathing review. So, what do you plan to do about it?”

“I was wondering if I should just start over in a new group, or even a new company. You know, kind of put it behind me.”

He looked at me with a trace of disappointment.

“Rodney, this is a problem. If you don’t fix this, you’ll be running from your problems the rest of your career. If you want my advice, I’d suggest you do what Dieter F. Uchtdorf suggested, and ‘Lift where you stand.‘ It will take longer, but I know you can get through this.”

So, that’s what I did. I focused on my current role and did everything I could to make it not only a success, but an essential success to our department.

His faith in me was vindicated about a year later. I went in talk to my manager about applying for a different position in his organization.

“Well, you can apply if you want to, and I certainly won’t stop you, but I REALLY appreciate the work you’ve done in your current role. The work in your current role has impressed senior management. I think there’s a lot more room for future promotions and visibility where you’re at.”

My review that year was one of the best in my career.

We all have a face that we hide away forever. . .

We all have times where we need to change that inner face. Sometimes it’s forced on us like the Provo Tabernacle restoration. Sometimes we need courage to follow our dreams, like Howard Tayler. Other times we need courage to face our weaknesses. That’s where growth comes from.

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